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Sunday, February 09 2020
American Indian Boarding School Stories Exhibit Opens For First Friday

Content excerpted from the Mid-America Arts Alliance website, https://www.maaa.org/

The Mid-America Arts Alliance is pleased to present Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories on March 6 from 6:00–8:00 p.m. at 2018 Baltimore in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District. Away from Home, a traveling exhibition from M-AAA’s NEH on the Road program, will feature a selection of works and artifacts in our downstairs Convening Space.

PLEASE NOTE: Away from Home contains stories of resilience and revitalization, agency and honor. Please be aware that it also contains descriptions of human indignities and hardships and terms that reflect historically racist perspectives and language from past eras. In speaking the truth about acts of seemingly unfathomable violence and suffering in the lives of Native peoples, this exhibition is advised for more mature audience members, grades eight to adult.


Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories

Beginning in the 1870s, the US government attempted to educate and assimilate American Indians into “civilized” society by placing children—of all ages, from thousands of homes and hundreds of diverse tribes—in distant, residential boarding schools. Many were forcibly taken from their families and communities and stripped of all signs of “Indianness,” even forbidden to speak their own language amongst themselves. Up until the 1930s, students were trained for domestic work and trade in a highly regimented environment. Many children went years without familial contact, and these events had a lasting, generational impact.

Native Americans responded to the often tragic boarding school experience in complex and nuanced ways. Stories of student resistance, accommodation, creative resolve, devoted participation, escape, and faith in one’s self and heritage speak individually across eras. Some families, facing increasingly scarce resources due to land dispossession and a diminishing way of life at home, sent their children to boarding schools as a refuge from these realities. In the variety of reactions, Ojibwe historian Brenda Childs finds that the “boarding school experience was carried out in public, but had an intensely private dimension.”

Unintended outcomes, such as a sense of “Pan Indianism” and support networks, grew and flourished on campuses, and advocates demanded reform. Boarding schools were designed to remake American Indians but it was American Indians who changed the schools. After graduation, some students became involved in tribal political office or the formation of civil rights and Native sovereignty organizations. The handful of federal boarding schools remaining today embrace Indigenous heritage, languages, traditions, and culture.

This exhibition explores off-reservation boarding schools in its kaleidoscope of voices. Visitors will explore compelling photographs, artwork, interviews, interactive timelines, and immersive environments, including classroom and dormitory settings. Objects such as a period barber chair and a young Seminole girl’s skirt, as well as reproduction elements poignantly illuminate first-person accounts. Stories of tragedy and familial love and friendships intersect. Experiences of gaining things useful and beautiful out of education, despite a formidable, fifty-year agenda that mostly maligned Native American capabilities, call us closer; each trial, each turning of power seeded in human survival, strengthening Indigenous identity.

Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories is touring from April 2020 through April 2025.
Current dates scheduled for local exhibition:

  • April 6–May 25, 2020 Mid-America All Indian Center Museum, Wichita, KS 
  • June 16–August 11, 2020 Sioux City Public Museum, Sioux City, IA 
  • January 28–March 16, 2023 Johnson County Museum, Overland Park, KS 
  • September 1–October 20, 2023 Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, Enid, OK 

This exhibition is made possible by NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was adapted from the permanent exhibition, Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories, organized by The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

First Friday at Mid-America Arts Alliance is supported in part by the City of Kansas City, Missouri Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund.  


(Source: Mid-America Arts Alliance (https://www.maaa.org/) and NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Images: Sioux children on their 1st day at school, 1897, Courtesy of Library of Congress. Children praying before bedtime at Phoenix Indian school, 1900 , Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC)

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